NASHVILLE – Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey always envisioned moments like this – his team nearing a championship, and playing football in January when the stakes are the highest.
On Sunday, he'll play in his first AFC Championship Game when the Titans travel to Arrowhead Stadium to face the Kansas City Chiefs.
"I got home last night, sat down with the wife, and just soaked (the thought) all in," said Casey, who's in his ninth season. "It's definitely an amazing feeling – you can't ask the Lord for nothing else than to be able to play in the NFL, and to be able to play in these types of moments and in these types of games."
A third-round draft pick in 2011, Casey played on a 2-14 team in 2014, and in 2015 the Titans finished with a 3-13 mark. With the team's recent success, Casey feels like he's being rewarded for his hard work, and commitment. Casey's only other playoff appearance came in 2017, when the Titans were bounced out of the playoffs in the Divisional Round. A knee injury kept him out of the regular season finale a year ago, when the Titans weren't able to clinch a playoff spot in a win-and-in scenario in Week 17.
With wins over the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots and the No.1 seeded Baltimore Ravens in this year's playoffs, the Titans are in the AFC Championship for the first time since the 2002 season. The Titans had three straight 9-7 seasons heading into this year, and they've finally gotten over the hump after a fourth straight regular season finish this season.
Not bad for a team that started the year with a 2-4 record after six games.
"It's unbelievable," said Casey, who had two sacks in the team's win over the Ravens. "I always said whenever I got drafted, I always wanted to make sure that I stayed around on a team and be a leader. … I wanted to stay on whatever team I am with and make sure I lead that team into being a Super Bowl contender."
The Titans are one win away from playing in February – in Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium.
But the four players who spoke to reporters on Monday at Saint Thomas Sports Park – Casey, safety Kevin Byard, linebacker Wesley Woodyard and center Ben Jones – all talked about the focus being on the task at hand, not what could be on the horizon.
"We have to really remember what got us here, that is the main thing," Byard said. "Really, just understanding that even though we are so close (to the Super Bowl), we are still so far away. The reason that we are here now, being that we were 2-4 – everybody thought the sky was falling. But we kept telling each other: Hey, let's just get to 1-0 this week and it's been a formula that has been working for us. So why change now? If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That's the mentality we have to take."
"We are just taking it one game at a time, and this is all that matters," Jones said. "All we can focus on is this week. This is a big one, and we have to take care of this week."
Woodyard, who played in Super Bowl 50 with the Broncos, said the Titans will be locked in on the Chiefs.
Forget the Super Bowl talk, Woodyard said.
"You can't get to somewhere without taking care of business first," Woodyard said. "You can't walk outside of your house unless you open up the door. So this is the first step and the only step that we have to make sure we take care of, because this is the only game that really matters right now."
The challenge this week is a big one.
The Chiefs punched their ticket into Sunday's showdown at Arrowhead Stadium with a 51-31 win over the Texans on Sunday. The Chiefs rallied from a 24-0 first half deficit to win going away.
In Week 10 of the regular season, the Titans rallied for a 35-32 win over the Chiefs at Nissan Stadium. Running back Derrick Henry ran for 188 yards and two touchdowns in that contest, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed 13-of-19 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns.
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes completed 36-of-50 passes for 446 yards and three touchdowns in that game against the Titans. Defensively, the Chiefs showed great improvement throughout the course of the season, holding three of their last five opponents under 10 points.
The Chiefs have won seven straight games since their November 10 loss at Nissan Stadium.
"They are very good defensively, they are playing very hard," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said of the Chiefs. "The scheme is what it is, but the players are playing hard and they believe in each other. Their effort to the football and the way that they chase and the way that they tackle, and those are great compliments to (Chiefs DC) Steve Spagnuolo and his staff and obviously Andy (Reid) as the head coach.
"They are explosive on offense, they are athletic, they are fast. It will be a huge challenge."
The Tennessee Titans take on the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC Divisional playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium. (Photos: Donald Page)